Microsoft begins integrating Bing search into Office

Microsoft's 'Bingification' of applications officially has begun with its integration of Bing search into Word Online.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is beginning to integrate its Bing search technology into Office, starting with Word Online, company officials announced on December 10.

Microsoft is calling the new embedded search capability "Insights for Office." Microsoft is rolling out the capability worldwide (everywhere where Bing is available) starting today, December 10. The rollout should be complete within the next few days, officials said.

Users don't need to do anything to get the new capability; it will just be added to Word Online automatically. The new "intelligent search experience," as Microsoft officials are calling this, isn't ad supported. It's free.

In Word Online, the Webified version of Word that is usable via a variety of browsers, there will be an inline box that allows users to specify for what they want to search (obtain an "insight" in Microsoft parlance). Alternatively, users can opt to right click on a highlighted word or phrase to trigger a search result right inside the document. Those insights might be a Bing-curated entity cards or might be Web-search results from Bing, depending on the word or phrase selected.

This integration allows users to avoid having to leave a document, use a search engine to find information they want to include/update, and then return and add that information to the document. The search happens inside the document and the results are presented in the document, as well.

Here's an image showing what a search for Lincoln (inside of a Word Online document about Abraham Lincoln) might look like:


"We didn't just drop a search box into Word Online," explained Ryan Gavin, Microsoft General Manager of search, cloud and content. "This isn't a single word look-up for search. We are scanning and reading documents for context and content so we can get THE answer instead of a whole set of answers."

Gavin declined to say which other Office Online apps might get the Insights for Office treatment next. He also declined to say when and if Microsoft might integrate this capability into locally installed Office applications.

Insights for Office is another example of how Microsoft is turning Bing into more than just a standalone Web search engine, Gavin said. Bing is evolving into an "intelligent service layer or fabric" that is part of other products and services -- for example, Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant, Xbox voice search and Windows 8's smart search -- he said.

One Microsoft evangelist demonstrated a very similar embedded search capability in Outlook late last year. Microsoft Distinguished Technical Engineer James Whittaker showed how an embedded Bing capability in email could surface information based on the context and content of users' emails (with their consent) and present them with related relevant information right inside their mail messages.

Gavin said that Insights for Office was "influenced by" some of the technologies on which Whittaker and his colleagues worked.

On the back end, here's how that search integration works, according to a December 10 blog post describing Insights for Office:

"Bing indexes and stores entity data from around the web representing real world people, places and things. Insights for Office utilizes Bing's ability to index the world's knowledge and our machine learned relevance models to semantically understand the most important content in a user's document and then return the most relevant results. This capability is derived largely from patterns of text analysis developed in collaboration with Microsoft Research. The results deliver the most relevant web links, images, etc. for a given request in the form of entity cards - a quick overview of the most important attributes (description, date of birth, etc.) about a real world person, place or thing. In many cases, the entity card may provide enough information for the user's query intent to be fulfilled without requiring any additional exploration. If the user wants to dive deeper, they can click on 'More quick insights' and 'More web results' to get even more detailed search results."

Office Insights is yet another instance of Microsoft seeking to make its productivity apps and services more intelligent.

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